The Unbelievable True Crime Story Behind ‘May December’

The real-life scandal is making headlines again more than two decades later.

With awards season kicking into gear, there’s one film we’ve got our eye on. 

May December is the latest drama to hit our screens and, thanks to the powerful performance of its leading actors, combined with an utterly gripping plot, it’s generating more than a little awards buzz.

Starring Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman, the film tells the complicated story of the relationship between an older woman and a much younger man, as well as the media scrutiny that surrounded the origins of their romance.

Sound familiar? The plot draws inspiration from the real-life scandal of Mary Kay Letourneau, the American teacher who had a sexual relationship with her 13-year-old student in the late ‘90s.

So while the film itself is fictional, below, we’re delving into the unbelievable true crime story that inspired May December.

Image: Netflix

Who Was Mary Kay Letourneau?

Mary Kay Letourneau was a school teacher who was convicted of sexually abusing one of her students, Vili Fualaau. 

Letourneau’s teaching career began in Normandy Park, a suburb of Seattle, where she lived with her husband, Steve Letourneau, and their four children.

Letourneau first met Fualaau when he was one of her second grade students at the local school. According to People, she took an interest in his artistic talents, and kept a keen eye on him as he grew up, buying him art supplies, taking him to museums, and encouraging him to write poetry.

Fualaau would later be in Letourneau’s sixth grade class, in 1995.

In the summer of 1996, Letourneau, 36, began sleeping with Fualaau, 12. 

In 2006, Fualaau told NBC Dateline that he initiated the sexual relationship: “I wanted her,” he said. “So I wasn’t going to stop.” Letourneau gave her version of events to 20/20, saying, “The incident was a late night, and it didn’t stop with a kiss … And I thought that it would, and it didn’t.”

Letourneau and Fualaau in 2005. Image: Getty

It wasn’t until February the following year that the affair was exposed, when Letourneau’s husband found love letters between the two. A month later, Letourneau was arrested, after a relative alerted the school of the relationship.

In May 1997, Letourneau gave birth to her first child with Fualaau: a daughter named Audrey. Then in August, she pleaded guilty to two counts of child rape, and was sentenced to just over seven years in jail. Letourneau’s sentence was reduced to six months, on the condition that she would enter a treatment program for sex offenders, take medication for her bipolar disorder and cease all contact with Fualaau.

Per Page Six, one month after she was released in January 1998, Letourneau was arrested for having sex with Fualaau in a car, and received another seven and a half year jail sentence. During this sentence, Letourneau gave birth to their second child, another daughter named Georgia.

She was eventually released from jail in 2004, when Fualaau was 21, and the pair were married the same year.

Letourneau and Fualaau with their two daughters. Image: Getty

Are Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau Still Together?

Fualaau filed for separation from Letourneau in 2017, however they reportedly continued living together until 2019. In Early 2020, Letourneau was diagnosed with cancer. She passed away from the disease on July 7, 2020. She was 58.

How Much Of May December Is Based on Mary Kay Letourneau?

According to screenwriter Sammy Burch, as well as drawing loose parallels from Letourneau and Fualaau’s story, much of May December is inspired by the media scrutiny that surrounded their case.

“I really wanted a fictional story that dealt with this tabloid culture of the ’90s that has kind of seemingly led into this true-crime biopic world we’re in now, and kind of question that transition and why we want to keep recreating these stories,” Burch said at a New York Film Festival screening.

“That was the real jumping-off point for me… All of these stories like this that are in the ether are just completely embedded in everyone’s cultural history.”

How To Watch ‘May December’ In Australia

‘May December’ is set to hit Australian screens in February 2024.

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